Michael Kownacky

Program Host

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.

You can also hear Michael, along with his The Dress Circle co-host, on JazzOn2, every Wednesday evening from 7pm, eastern, for Strike Up the Band, a program celebrating the big bands and dance bands of jazz.

Ways to Connect

June 1st will be the 96th anniversary of the birth of Marilyn Monroe, and we’ll be remembering her on this week’s Dress Circle (5/26 7:00 p.m.).  Although she only appeared in 33 films over the course of 15 years until her untimely death 57 years ago, she is arguably still one of the most recognizable people around the world.  Much has been made of her problems and failings, but we just want to remember her performances that were uniquely “Marilyn.”  

We love reminding everyone about some of the great performers who we feel are being forgotten, and on this week’s Dress Circle (5/19 7:00 p.m.), we’ll be doing just that as we shine a spotlight on leading man Howard Keel.  Many people only remember him as Clayton Farlow on “Dallas,” but for those of us who love musicals have loved him in films like “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Kismet,” “Calamity Jane,” “Kiss Me Kate,” and “Annie Get Your Gun” as well as his stage appearances in shows like “Saratoga” and the London cast of “Oklahoma!”   

We’ll be enjoying another forgotten opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/12 3:00 p.m.) as we look at one of twenty pieces by Austrian composer Wilhelm Kienzl, “Der Evangelimann.”  Premiering in March of 1892, it has become his most famous opera although it never reached the financial success of his “Don Quixote.”  The story, which was adapted into a silent film in 1924, is by Kienzl and looks at the life of a school teacher named Johannes who is falsely accused of setting a fire in the local monastery by his jealous brother, who has fallen in love with and has been rebuked by Johannes’ love, Martha.  

Nothing really changes, and to prove that on this week’s Dress Circle (5/12 7:00 p.m.) we’re presenting a program we’ve titled, “Me!  Me!  Me! Ego Songs from the Musicals.”  

Welcome to May!  We don’t have flowers for you, but on this week’s Dress Circle (5/5 7:00 p.m.) we do have some of the May openings for you.  From the earliest shows, 1921’s “Shuffle Along” and a song by Eubie Blake and Nobel Sissle and 1928’s “Blackbirds of 1928” which featured songs by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, we’ll look at the long-running Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones favorite, “The Fantasticks,” the delightful masterpiece by Frank Loesser, “The Most Happy Fella,” the backstage love letter to Broadway by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, “Me and Juliet,” as well as two back-to-back hits by the team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, “The Pajama Game” and “Damn Yankees.”  

There are many versions of the Faust legend, and we’ll sample one on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/5 3:00 p.m.) from Ferruccio Busoni for which he also wrote the libretto.  Unfinished at the time of his death, it was completed by Busoni’s pupil Philipp Jarnach and then again in 1982 by Anthony Beaumont from recently discovered sketches by Busoni.  This Faust is more about love than he is power or wealth, and after an off-stage seduction of Gretchen, he suggests to Mefistofeles that her soldier brother should be killed.  He also seduces and runs away with a duchess whom he abandons, but she eventually returns as a homeless beggar with their dead child, and with a final act of good, Faust brings the baby back to life as a young man as he descends into hell.  

It’s time for a bit of “calendar art” on this week’s Dress Circle (4/28 7:00 p.m.) as we look at songs about those pesky April showers.  With songs from musicals like “The Fantasticks,” “Bklyn,” “Bloomer Girl,” “Parade,” “Little Women,” and “St. Louis Woman,” the “Weather Report” says that “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” and even with our “Small Umbrella in the Rain,” we’ll be “Right as the Rain” “Come Rain or Come Shine.”  We’ll listen to the “Rhythm of the Falling Rain” as “It’s Raining on Prom Night,” but you can always say, “Gimme a Rain Check” as you “Look to the Rainbow.”  

It’s always interesting to see how different composers treat the same source material, and we’ll see an example of this on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/28 3:00 p.m.) with a recording of Alfredo Catalani’s “Dejanice” which premiered in 1883.   The libretto by Angelo Zanardini based on a novel by Victor Hugo, “Angelo, the Tyrant of Padua” as is Amilcare Ponchielli’s “La Gioconda.”  Here, it’s set in Ancient Greece with Dejanice who was once a patrician but is now a high-class prostitute who is in love with a Tuscan adventurer named Admeto who is, in turn, in love with Argelia against her father’s wishes.  As in all good operas, a love triangle can only end in tragedy for someone.  

Spring is the time for all things new, and we’re going to be sampling some recent acquisitions on this week’s Dress Circle (4/21 7:00 p.m.).  These “new to us” recordings include studio cast recordings of two George and Ira Gershwin musicals from 1925 “Tip-Toes” and “Tell Me More.”  We’ll also be sampling songs from two television musicals, “Ruggles of Red Gap” by Jule Styne and Leo Robin and “Feathertop” by Mary Rodgers and Martin Charnin featuring performances by Michael Redgrave, Peter Lawford, and Jane Powell.  

It’s a showcase of the work of Pavel Haas on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/21 3:00 p.m.) as we look at his only opera, written in 1936, “Sarlatan.”  Haas was one of the Czech-Jewish composers to be used by the Nazis as part of their propaganda display at Terezin (Theresienstadt concentration camp) for the Red Cross.  Haas was killed on October 17, 1944 at the age of 45 when he drew attention to himself, saving conductor Karel Ancerl when they were sent to Auschwitz immediately after the Red Cross’ visit.

The Dress Circle this week (4/14 7:00 p.m.) will be heading off to Carnegie Hall for some concert performances, and there won’t be a single note of classical music.  In 1938, Benny Goodman took a chance and presented the first jazz concert at the hall, and it was successful.  The hall was filled, people danced and enjoyed the concert, and they didn’t tear the seats apart as was feared.  Since that time, there have been a variety of concerts, and we’ll be looking at a few of them.  

A Basque opera?  We’ll have one on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/14 3:00 p.m.) as we turn to Jesus Guridi’s “Amaya.”  Guridi (1886 – 1961) played an important role as a Spanish / Basque composer who wrote operas and zarzuelas as well as orchestral, piano, choral, and organ works.  “Amaya” deals with several conflicts on which hangs the future of the Basque people in the 8th century.  Christianity is threatening the old religion, the Moors are invading Spain, and Amaya has to choose between the love of a Christian invader and that of a long-time Basque admirer.  She does, with tragic consequences.  

What do “Matilda,” “Hair,” “A Chorus Line,” “Big River,” “Waitress,” and “Rent” have in common?  They’re all on this week’s Dress Circle (4/7 7:00 p.m.) because they all opened this month.  Join Ted Otten and Michael Kownacky as they survey some of the shows of April that also include “The Producers,” “Miss Saigon,” “Jekyll & Hyde,” and “Annie” as well.   Don’t forget to visit our Webcasts for any past shows you might have missed and visit our highly suspect website at www.DCSRO.com.

We’ll be celebrating another forgotten opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (4/7 3:00 p.m.) as we look at the Hermann Goetz treatment of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” entitled “Widerspenstigen Zahmung.”  Goetz spent the early part of his short life as a pianist, conductor, and music critic, only concentrating on composing as the effects of the tuberculosis that would kill him at age 35 increased, so it’s doubly sad that this delightful opera has all but disappeared.  

A real musical menu is on offer for this week’s Dress Circle (3/31 7:00 p.m.).  No, there won’t be any singing produce, but there will be songs from “The Most Happy Fella,” “The Fantasticks,” “Kismet,” “Flower Drum Song,” “A Night in Venice,” and “She Loves Me.”  The menu includes spaghetti, pie, ice cream, Caesar salad, guacamole, wine, and a trip to the supermarket for more.  Tune in for a fun look at some incredible edibles. 

Somehow, Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo had a son, and he’s the central figure in this week’s Sunday Opera (3/31 3:00 p.m.) in Nancy Van De Vate’s “Nemo Beyond Vulcania.”  With a libretto by Van De Vate and Alan Cortes, the story uses Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” as a starting point where Nemo’s grown son is torn between his loyalty to his father’s ideals of living in a world of men to do good works or to share his life with a woman.  The cast includes Zoltan Korda, Marek Oldbrzmek, Adriana Hlavsova, Andrea Kotulanova, Jiri Klecker, and Tomas Badura.  Toshiuki Shimada conducts the Ars Brunensis Chorus and the Moravian Philharmonic.  

We’ll be enjoying more fruits from the age of the CD on this week’s Dress Circle (3/24 7:00 p.m.) as we sample recordings made by composers and lyricists of their own works.  Many of these recordings were demos or examples of works in progress that they wanted to share with absent partners; some are from public performances, and the results are wonderfully variable.  Some of those professionals include Stephen Sondheim, Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Johnny Mercer, Harold Rome, Frank Loesser, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, and Hoagy Carmichael just to name a few.  

We’re going to the United Kingdom for this week’s Sunday Opera (3/24 3:00 p.m.) with two operas about plucky young ladies.  First will be Ireland’s Michael William Balfe’s charming “Bohemian Girl” which deals with a stolen child raised by gypsies who falls in love with an exiled Polish nobleman, and it all comes out right in the third act.   The cast includes Nora Thomas, Patrick Power, Jonathan Summers, Bernadette Cullen, and John del Carlo with Richard Bonynge leading the Irish Radio and Television Philharmonic Choir and the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland.  

It’s a bit of the less familiar on this week’s Dress Circle (3/17 7:00 p.m.) as we look at some of the recordings released by producer Ben Bagley as part of his “Revisited” series.  You’ll know the composers and lyricists such as Noel Coward, Burton Lane, Kurt Weill, Maxwell Anderson, Frank Loesser, Richard Rodgers, and Lorenz Hart, but you may not know some of the songs from shows like “The Garrick Gaities,” “Calling All Stars,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “Senor Discretion Himself,” and “Good Morning Dearie.” 

We’ll turn to a classic recording of a much loved opera on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/17 3:00 p.m.) and a 1958 recording of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West” featuring a stellar cast that truly doesn’t get enough air play today.  Minnie, the “girl” of the title, is Renata Tebaldi, Mario Del Monaco is the bandit-in-disguise Dick Johnson (a.k.a. Ramerez) with whom she falls in love much to the consternation of Sherriff Jack Rance sung by Cornell MacNeil, and she saves Ramerez’s life by cheating at poker to “win” him. 

We got a little carried away by overwhelming nostalgia on this week’s Dress Circle (3/10 7:00 p.m.).  While we were planning a previous program, we listened to a cut on a newly acquired CD, and that sent that nostalgia spinning.  The result is this program that looks at some of our musical memories.  Now, these all don’t come from musicals but are pieces that played a role in our childhoods and, often, into our adult lives.  

We’re journeying to Paris for two vastly different works on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/10 3:00 p.m.).  First, we’ll go back to the tenth century as portrayed in an often overlooked opera by Gaetano Donizetti, “Ugo Conte di Parigi.”  Based loosely on the life of Hugo the Great, the opera is yet another story of misplace love, vengeance gone wrong, guilt, and repentance, all the things that make for a good opera libretto!  

Lion or lamb, we’ll be celebrating the month of March on The Dress Circle this week (3/3 7:00 p.m.) with songs from some of the shows that opened in New York this month.  Our earliest show this time comes from 1954 and the Jerome Moross / John Latouche retelling of the “Iliad” and “Odyssey” in “The Golden Apple,” and our most recent show is the stage version of Disney’s “Frozen.” 

Many operas have been based on popular plays, and the comedy on this week’s Sunday Opera (3/3 3:00 p.m.) is an excellent example of when this works to perfection.  The opera is “La Vedova Scaltra” or “The Cunning Widow” by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari with a libretto by Mario Ghisalberti which is based on a play of the same name by Carlo Goldoni.  The fourth of five operas based on Goldoni plays by Wolf-Ferrari, the story centers on a wealthy widow who is wooed by suitors from four different countries (Great Britain, France, Spain, and Italy) and the complications that ensue.  

We’re celebrating black history month on this week’s Dress Circle (2/24 7:00 p.m.) by looking at shows featuring black casts like “Simply Heavenly,” a musical with a book and lyrics by Langston Hughes based on his novel “Simple Takes a Wife” and other “Simple” stories, “Purlie,” a musical based on Ossie Davis’ play “Purlie Victorious,” and “Raisin” based on Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun.”  

You think that you have relationship issues?  Well, we’re going to be looking at some complicated connections on this week’s Sunday opera (2/24 3:00 p.m.), and then, we’ll have a bit of careless abandon!  We’ll begin with Laurent Petitgirard’s operatic version of “Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man.”  With a book based loosely on the play by Bernard Pomerance by Eric Nonn, the story centers on the life of an extremely deformed man who craves kind human interaction and to live like a “normal man.”  The cast includes Nathalie Stutzmann, Nicolas Rivenq, Robert Breault, and Marie Devellereau with the French Opera Chorus and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo with the composer conducting.  

We lost the dynamo known as Carol Channing on January 15, and on this week’s Dress Circle (2/17 7:00 p.m.), we’ll be paying tribute to her wonderful career.  Channing’s early career was as a model which led to stage work that took her to New York and then L.A..  In L.A., she was hired for a show that took her back to New York, and there she stayed.  We’ll look at some of that early work in shows like 1948’s “Lend an Ear,” 1949’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and 1961’s “Show Girl.”  

“Hamlet” with a happy ending?  Well, sort of… and we’ll hear it on this week’s Sunday Opera (2/17 3:00 p.m.) with Ambroise Thomas’ 1868 operatic version of Shakespeare’s play.  The libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, authors of numerous adaptations and opera texts, had the arduous task of shaving down the massive play to mixed reviews – where some critics believe their final product is a concise representation of Shakespeare, others feel that the lack of secondary characters like the gravediggers and the “smoothing” of Shakespeare’s coarse language lessens its impact.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and we’re going to try to get you in the mood on this week’s Dress Circle (2/10 7:00 p.m.) with some love songs, but not just any love songs, we’re turning to the wonderful pairing of Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers for our sources.  

We’re heading to the Cornish coast of England for this week’s Sunday Opera (2/10 3:00 p.m.) and Dame Ethel Smyth’s “The Wreckers.”  Set in an unnamed village in the mid-18th century where the people make their living not through fishing but by scavenging from the ships that are wrecked on their treacherous coastline, the story deals with two moral dilemmas: stopping the carnage of ships and sailors enabled by the village and acting on a forbidden love for another man’s wife.  

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